I took a year sabbatical from work after 29 years of working for Walmart. I bought a 2008 Leopard 40 Catamaran and have been cruising the western Caribbean since August of 2013. This is our story of our experiences, good, bad or ugly, as we adapt to living on a boat! Currently I have my mother on board, as my wife completes her US Citizenship, back in the US. Follow us as we learn a different way to live.
When we were in Guatemala, we were trying to decide where to meet our family for Christmas. We finally decided that there wasn't a more beautiful place than in Belize. So we headed back north from Rio Dulce, Guatemala. We have spent about a week in Placencia, seeing old friends and getting some repairs done. We had planned on leaving on Tuesday, the 26th, but a cold front came down on Wednesday, delaying our departure a couple of days. We did enjoy the few more days in Placencia, but I was ready to hit the reefs again!
So my wife and son, Maria Paula and Blake, will fly into Belize City and then on to either Cay Caulker or San Pedro. We will meet them at the airport and spend the holidays in that area of Belize. We are really excited to have them come down, as neither one has seen the boat or been cruising before! We are hoping for a great time!
We would like to arrive in the San Pedro area at least a week or so ahead of them, so that we can scout out the area and find the best spots. Below are the cays that we will visit on the way north. spending a day or two at each:
South Water Cay or Twin Cays
Middle Long Cay
Ambergris Cay (San Pedro)
It will probably take us a couple of weeks to get up to San Pedro, as we are not in a hurry, and like to be out on the cays. We hope for smooth sailing and no more northern fronts! We are flexible, so we can't always give a specific schedule. We may not be able to get on the Internet for a week or two, but once we finally get online again, we should have some great pictures and stories!
It was nice to be able to spend a couple of days in Placencia! This is where we started our journey, so it is nice to come back and see all of our friends again!
Kick'n back in Placencia Harbor!!!
We anchored near the Moorings Marina in the lagoon, where we needed the expert help of Cricket and Salam to fix a few things on the boat. Cricket fixed our autopilot in about 30 minutes, installing a key in between the gear sprocket and the motor shaft. So mom you are out of a job on our next voyage!
Salam helped us order and install a large hose clamp on our upper seal on our sail drive. The original one had come off, so we feel better that this is corrected too. He stayed on the boat one night for an hour or so, drinking a couple of our Gallo beers from Guatemala. He just got married and is a really great guy. He is also the lead mechanic here at the Moorings Belize.
We also got to visit with Renee about our future plans in Belize. She helped mark different anchorages that we can use during our sail north to San Pedro. Thanks Renee!
We took the boat into the marina and filled our water tanks, so we were ready to go! Mom had to do some last minute shopping with the Mayan ladies that we met last September. I think that she made their day, by buying something from each one!
Unfortunately, the weather forecast didn't look too favorable, with a large northern front moving in on Wednesday. So we decided to wait here a few more days, until the front had passed. We did manage to buy some supplies while in town, and see Brenda, the Jerk Chicken lady at the dock.
Brenda's Jerk Chicken Stand
We also had dinner and lunch with Termite, who was a live-aboard staying at the Moorings Marina. We have kept in touch with him since we left back in September.
Termite and Wiley (this picture was from last September. He now has a short haircut!)
Wash day on MokaKat! Yes, even in paradise you need to do wash!
Sunrise in Placencia Harbor
With the front coming into the area on Wednesday, Tuesday I kicked back and enjoyed the day. It was absolutely perfect, very little wind and flat seas. I enjoyed swimming and catching some sun.
Dale kick'n back! Notice the Lost Bridge Marina Coolie!
This is cruising life...and the first time that I have intentionally caught some sun!
Placencia Harbor, the day before the front
That afternoon, we motored back into the lagoon and anchored just in front of the Moorings Marina. There was just one other boat around us, so we had plenty of room to spread out. We dropped our anchor and let out about 150 feet of chain. The water was only about 6 feet deep, so this was more than enough! The winds were supposed to hit 30 knots, so we wanted to make sure that we didn't drag. No more than an hour after we set the anchor a large thunder storm hit the area. It wasn't part of the front, but I am sure that it was created by the unsettled weather. It dumped a lot of rain on us but the winds only hit about 18 knots, so we knew that it was not the forecasted front. The rain did provide us with more than 20 gallons of water to top off our tanks!
Late evening storm coming!
After the storm, we had a very peaceful evening as everything settled down. At 4:44 in the morning, I was woken to hear the rigging singing and the wave slapping on the boat! I guess the front finally made it here! I got up and turned on the instruments to see how hard the wind was blowing. It was hitting mid 20s, so nothing too much. I sat up and watched the weather for an hour or so, and fell back asleep. I got up around 7:00, and the wind hit over 30 knots a few times. Our anchor held solid in the lagoon mud, so we felt very safe.
This what I woke up to at 7:00. It actually got worse before dying out later in the day.
We enjoyed the cooler day, and as the day wore on, the wind finally slacked off. There were several of the Moorings Charters out in the reefs having some concerns about the wind. They all managed to get back into port safely, after waiting for the wind to die. We were happy to be sitting in the lagoon, before we head out in the morning to Pelican Cay. Happy Sailing!!!
We got up early today and had anchor up by 7:30. There was some strong west winds and we didn't want to miss them! We sailed for about 2 hours in good northwest winds hitting 6 and 7 knots in 10 to 12 knot winds. It finally dwindled down to 5 and 6 knots of wind, but at least we were headed directly to New Haven, although down to a 3 knot average. Mom was our new autopilot today, and got lots of sailing practice in the light winds. Our autopilot is still broke, so we had to manually steer again. I will fix it once we arrive in Placencia. We ended up motor sailing once our speed dropped under 3 knots for more than 30 minutes. The wind was doing it's normal shift to Northeast and usually dies for a hour or so during the switch. We arrived in New Haven around 1:00 and anchored. So it was about 5 hours of actual travel time to arrive.
This was a foam line that extended for miles. I kept seeing white showing up in the distant, and was nervous it was a trash line or a reef that wasn't on the chart. I was glad it was only some sea foam.
West Snake Key! We were back in Belize waters! We gave it a wide berth, as the water was very shallow there. We stopped there on our way down with Phil and Julie.
We ate a quick lunch and I crashed for an hour or so. When I awoke, heard a boat outside. I walked out to see 4 guys in a fishing boat. They were wanting to trade some rum or beer for cokes or other beer beside Beliken, the local beer. I gave them a couple of cokes and two Gallo beers from Guatemala and they gave me two Beliken and a nice snapper. It is a little unnerving to be in such a remote anchorage and having a boat load of guys come up. They were polite and only wanted to trade for a mixer to go with their rum. One of the guys had to be 300 pounds and was quite large. We have been impressed with the niceness of everyone we met in Belize so far, except the caretaker on Ranguana :).
Mom cooked some great baked chicken and potatoes and we had a very nice night. The sunset was spectacular and the full moon came out just after dinner. Another great day on MokaKat.
Day 4 - 28 NM
Again we rise early and had anchor up around 7:30. It always seems that we rise early when sailing. We also wanted to arrive in Placencia in time to check into the country. We didn't want to give them any excuse to charge us any penalties.
Surprisingly, we had a nice east wind blowing around 8 or 10 knots, so we were sailing at around 4 to 5 knots. There was a front that moved in and the wind bumped up to 18 knots, and our speed quickly accelerated to 7.5 knots. It was too bad that it only lasted for about 20 minutes. It was an exciting 20 minutes, as we were flying along, our fishing reel stated to sing out! Yes, we have a fish on!!! Mom grabbed the rod, but was struggling to reel it in. I then gave her the helm and went back to fight the monster fish! Well, it wasn't so big, but it was our first fish on MokaKat!!! Yippiii!!! I quickly filleted the fish and put it in the refrigerator to go with the fish from the fishermen the day before! Mom was still fighting with the wind and the wheel and we did some nice maneuvers. I didn't give her any instructions when she took over the wheel, so she didn't know what our heading was. We need to get our autopilot fixed!!!!
Our first fish!!!
Later in the sail, we were motor sailing, as the wind dropped below 6 knots, we had a huge strike on the fishing pole! The line was screaming off, and I had to shutdown the power on the engine, and run back to grab the pole. I could feel the weight of the fish for a few minutes, but then it threw the hook. The lure had large teeth marks on it, so it could have been a barracuda. I was disappointed that we lost it, but at least we are getting some action in the fishing department!
We stayed several miles off the coast of Belize heading north to Placencia. We had to cross the shipping channel that goes to Big Creek, but there wasn't any ships coming. We then headed back into the lagoon that goes back to the Moorings Marina. We anchored just in front of the Marina, but out in the lagoon. I then quickly dropped the dinghy, and headed with all of our paper work to check into Belize.
Placencia Harbor in the distant!
To check in, I have to take the dinghy to Mango Creek, and tie it up at the Hokey Pokey dock. I usually pay someone to 'watch' it for me, and then take a taxi to Big Creek, about 5 minutes down the road.
On the way to Mango Creek, I saw a large splash in the bay in front of me! It seemed very large, so I had to go check it out. It turned out to be two fun loving dolphins that were jumping high into the air, flipping and spinning, before crashing back into the water! I was in a hurry, so I was only able to watch from a distance but these creatures are inspiring, as they really enjoy life!
I then started following Mango creek as it snaked through the mangrove swamps. At one point I took a right turn instead of a left, and ended up in a very small creek with swamp on each side. I kept hearing the tune from Deliverance playing in my head, so I quickly turned around and headed back the way I came. I then realized that I should have taken the left turn, and was back on track. It was nice to see the dock at Mango Creek ahead. I turned my dinghy over to the same old guy that I did last time. He lives there at the dock, and he is the self proclaimed boat watcher! I then caught a taxi to take me to the Immigrations office, Port Authority, and Customs offices. The taxi will take me and wait for me at each stop for $25 Belize ($12.50US).
Everyone was really nice this time, and I quickly made it through all three offices. It cost me about $345 Belize for a cruising permit until January 10th. I quickly headed back to the boat, and took down the yellow quarantine flag, and hoisted the Belize visitor flag! We were again legal in Belize!
We had a very nice sail up from Guatemala! It was nice to be moving again and seeing different sites. Our plans are to make our way north in Belize to San Pedro, on Ambergris Cay or Cay Caulker. There are many cays between here and San Pedro, so we are excited to see a lot of Belize in the next month to six weeks. My wife Maria Paula and my 13 year old son, Blake, will fly into Belize on December 22nd. I will be happy to see them both, as it has been awhile since we were all together. We hope to show them a great time in Belize!
We will have limited Internet in the weeks to come, but at some point I will update the blog with more posts. Tomorrow, we will fill our water tanks, and head over to Placencia Harbor to stay a couple of days. Then we will head north toward Belize City.
This morning started really early for me, as I woke up at 5:00! This was the day that we would finally be cruising again! I watched the sun come up and then made coffee. We were leaving today from Mar Marine and heading down river to a little backpacker hotel called Round House. We planned on anchoring there, as it was supposed to be a safe anchorage, and eat dinner.
There was a Swap-n-Shop today at Bruno's Marina that I wanted to hit before we left. I broke one of my fishing poles and was looking for a replacement. Also there was a couple of cruisers that were back on the river that I wanted to meet. So I woke mom up early and we headed over to Bruno's for the Swap-n-Shop. There wasn't any fishing poles for sale, but I did run into both couples that I wanted to meet. The first was Bill and Joanne from s/vUltra. They have a blog http://jandbyachtultraadventure.blogspot.com/ that I have been following for the last two years. I also met Mark and Michele from s/v Reach. Their blog is www.svreach.com. It was a pleasure to meet both couples, and it was a shame that we were not able to spend more time with them. They both were scrambling for table space to display their treasures! I was happy to get a few minutes from each couple, before we had to head back to the boat. Of course I forgot my camera, so no pictures!
Mar Marine gave us a free breakfast for all of the help with their Internet that we gave. So we took the dinghy from Bruno's over to the Mar Marine Restaurant for breakfast. We ended up eating with Geff and Rose and said our good byes. Then it was back to the boat and Stan, Oliver, and Vivian help cast off our lines and we were off! A quick stop for fuel at the Puma station and we were heading down river.
Breakfast at Mar Marine
Our trip down to Round House was easy as we motored all of huge way. Our autopilot quit working, as the gear driving the chain was spinning on the shaft. I think maybe the key between the shaft and the gear must have slid out, as it looks like the Moorings had placed a small piece of wood there to hold the gear on. Sometimes I wonder why they rig something like that and then don't go back and fix it correctly. I will probably have to wait until we get back to Placencia to repair it, as tightening the Allen screws didn't seem to work.
We arrived at Round House around 1:30 and anchored just off of their dock. I ran the dinghy in go their dock and went up and checked out their place. They have a really cute restaurant and backpacker hotel with around 14 beds. I talked to Dani, one of the owners and her friends. We had reservations at 7:00, so I headed back to the boat.
The quietness of the river! We were happy to be cruising again!
This large stump became lodged on our port bow! A little push with the boat pole, and it went on it's way.
Round House Backpackers Hotel
They had two hammocks on the dock that were almost always in use!
The hotel was up a pathway in the jungle, overlooking the river,
The river here is very beautiful with the jungle flowing right down to the water. There were no trucks and jake brakes shattering the silence. It was amazing the birds and the beauty surrounding us. We missed these things at the marina. It is nice to be cruising again.
We had a great home style meal with their four guests and the owners, Dani and Chris. The group was from different countries, Belgium, Canada, France, and Austria. We all shared travel plans and stories and had a great time. It is really nice to talk to people from other parts of the world. All of them were in their 20s and traveling around on the cheap.
Dinner at Round House Backpacker Hotel and our new friends
Tomorrow we head down to Livingston and check out of Guatemala and sail to New Haven, one of our favorite anchorages.
Day 2 - 18.6 zigzag NM
Today stared really early, as I wanted to get down to Livingston and check out of Guatemala. The night on the river was very peaceful, and the morning was magical. The mist was hanging over the mountains and the birds were calling everywhere. The river was so peaceful and Mayan fisherman were already out throwing their cast nets.
Quite and peaceful
No one was up yet at the Round House Backpackers Hotel!
Mayan fishermen fishing the way they have done for centuries
We headed out around 7:30, after rousing my mom up! She isn't much of a morning person, but I needed her help to raise the anchor, fighting the river current. We motored down to Livingston in less than 2 hours and anchored just off of the municipal dock. As always, it was a beautiful and peaceful ride down the river.
The river felt really mysterious this morning with the fog and quietness
The beautiful bluffs
Getting close to Livingston
Water taxi heading to Livingston
Livingston - not our most favorite place, but necessary for checkout! Thanks Raul!!!
There were two other sailboats anchored there with the yellow Quarantine flag flying, checking into Guatemala. We had talked to Raul earlier in the week, so our checkout should be ready. I ran the dinghy over to Bugamama's dinghy dock and walked up to Raul's office.
There was a slight delay on our papers, so I talked to a guy that had one of the sailboats that was checking in. His name was Marvin, but I didn't catch his boat name, but it may be s/v Bad Dog. He had a Walmart blue recycle bag, so I started up a conversation. He was from Key Largo, Florida and was headed down to Fronteras. I still had a Guatemala Tigo chip for our cellphone, and I had planned on giving it to Raul to give to Geff on s/v My Peace, but since this guy needed one, I gave it to him. Well, it turns out that he caught a huge cobia fish on the way, and offered half of it to us! Wow, this was great! So I finished my checkout, and stopped at a local store and spent my remaining Quezales, and headed over to his boat. He gave me the larger half, as he didn't have freezer space for any more. I took the fish back over to my boat and filleted it into four large pieces.
Thank you Marvin!!!!
Filleting the cobia into four large pieces, before we headed out
We then headed out across the bar and into the Gulf of Honduras. The bar was easy for us this time, as we watched a couple commercial boats head out. I remembered when we arrived, and the depth gauge sat at .1 foot for almost 15 minutes. We were sweating bullets during that time.
Once over the bar, the wind was, of course, coming from the north east, the exact direction that way we need to go. We sailed for almost 4 hours and only zigzagged our way across the gulf a few times. Finally at 2:00, I made the decision to head over to Tres Puntos instead of New Haven. The wind had quieted, and the only way to get to New Haven was to motor all of the way.
We had to cross the busy shipping lane for Puerto Barrios. We gave them all of the space they demanded!!! They were flying!
So we headed over to Tres Puntos, making it in a couple of hours. Mom actually sailed most of the way as the wind was only 8 knots, and we were only going 3 or 4. It was good practice for her to sail. We anchored with three other boats and had a great evening.
Three other boats already anchored here
Finally, beautiful sunsets again!
Mom cooked a big slab of the cobia and it was very good, Que Rico! The anchorage was very quiet and with a full moon, it was almost daylight. We heard howler monkeys as the sun was going down. This was what cruising is all about!
We have enjoyed our visit in Rio Dulce, but it is time to head down stream and back north to Belize. We have made many good friends here and completed all of our boat projects! The main reason we came was for a haul out to replace our rubber saildrive boots with fiberglass ones. We accomplished that in the first week! The other things that we have completed are: Solar controller and panel install (300watts), fixed our two engines (grrrr), fixed a couple of stanchions that we leaking on the port side, and helped Mar Marine with their Wi-Fi issues (this wasn't on our list, but we needed Internet!). We also deep cleaned MokaKat inside and out!
We were also able to visit the castle, many movie nights at Mar Marine, many pot luck dinners, and many dinners with friends. I was also able to watch the last game of the World Series, sorry Cardinals. We didn't get a chance to head inland and visit Antigua or any of the Mayan Ruins, as we were constantly working on boat projects.
Good Bye Pot Luck Dinner at Mar Marine picnic area
Our plans are to head back to Placencia for a few days and see some friends there. We head down the river and will anchor at a little backpacker hotel and restaurant called Round House. It is one of the few safe places to anchor on the river. We will then motor down to Livingston and checkout first thing on Monday morning. We will most likely spend a night at New Haven, one of our most favorite anchorages. In the morning you can hear the Howler monkeys! We will then head north to Placencia Lagoon and check in to Belize at Big Creek.
We will spend a few days visiting some friends in Placencia, and then head north to San Pedro, which is on Ambergris Cay as a final destination. We hope to hit most of the cays on the way up, and enjoy snorkeling and fishing.
My wife, Maria Paul, and my youngest son, Blake, will meet us in San Pedro on December 22nd for Christmas. We are anxious to have company and hope that we can show them the best of Belize during that week!
So, don't worry if you don't see a post for a while! We hope to have some Internet as we travel, but there are no guarantees. We hope that our Solar panels keep us in electricity so that we don't have to pay for dock fees. Happy sailing!!!!
When I started this adventure I knew that there would be some hard days. The objection is to have more fun days that hard ones. By hard ones, I mean days where you bang your head against the wall, or hull in our case, trying to resolve a problem or fix something. There should be a high ratio of fun days to hard days, so after last week, I should have a lot of good days coming!!!!
'Fun to Suck Meter' swinging the wrong way!!!
While traveling down from Belize, we had a few intermittent engine starting incidents. Luckily, the engines always started at some point and we were never in any danger. I believed that it was caused by a simple wire on top of the engine that needed to be soldered instead of twisted and taped. This is what the technicians at Moorings had done. Every time that we couldn't start the engine, it was only a matter of twisting the connections or taping on the battery connections and the engine would start. So, one of my tasks was to solder these connections, add heat shrink tape, and clean the battery connections, and our problems would be solved. If only things were so easy!
To add to our frustration, when I finally got ready to work on the engines, the rain started here in the Rio. The engine hatches are at the stern on each side, but the access is an open hatch from the outside. So every time that I planned on working on the engine, I had to work around the constant raining, working between the showers. This all started a week ago, just after we finished the Solar Panel install.
Our engines are on the end of each hull, with an opening on top
Yanmar 3YM30 engines on MokaKat
So I quickly repaired the twisted wires on both engines, soldering a nice clean connection. I was so happy that our engine starting problems were going to be resolved and we could head out to Belize next week! I went to start the engines, and both of them would not start! What???? So I spent the day checking each connection from the starter switch to the starter motor. Of course, I really didn't know much about starters, solenoids, and relays. That was about to change, and my first hard lesson in engine starting was about to start!
The next day I researched on several cruiser forum sites, and found out that Yanmar engines had an issue where after 5 years or so, the wiring running from the key start would get corroded, and there wasn't enough power to kick in the solenoid and start the engine. The solution was to add a relay in front of the solenoid and the problem would be solved! So I hit the streets of Fronteras looking for a relay, wire, and connections. Of course, in a Spanish speaking country this was a little more difficult, but I was successful in getting all of the parts needed! So I build the relay configuration that would solve all of my problems! I also began to understand what the solenoid does and how relays work!
I have all of the parts ready to build the relay configuration!
A casualty of my efforts...another trip to Fronteras!
The finished relay connection, ready to install!
So I connected all of the wires, following the advice from the Forums, and tried to start the engines. Still nothing, actually not even a click or anything! Later I learned that my engines already had starter relays installed, and the information on the Cruiser Net was for older engines. The frustration level was getting higher and the moral lower on MokaKat....what happen to sundowners, and snorkeling, and actually sailing???? Of course it was continuing to rain through all of this.
So, I am not going to bore you with all of the details of the past week, the long hours of staring at engine parts and wires, the constant rain, the many trips to Fronteras, the fruitless Internet searches, the crying, the praying, the head beating, the hair pulling, and the bleeding.
What is wrong?????...please just start!!!!
No more rain!!!!...please just start!!!!
Head banging didn't help....please just start!!!!!
So here is a recap of the week's activities:
Port Engine: This engine I could not even jump at the solenoid, so I removed the starter and solenoid. After cleaning both, I applied 12Vs to the starter, and it barely turned over. We then tried the same thing with the starboard battery, and the starter jumped to life! Really, this whole time the battery was the problem! The battery showed 12.5 volts, which I had checked at the very beginning, but when a load was applied, it dropped to about 1 volt, not enough to start the engine. So off to Chiqui's Tienda for a replacement. After dropping $200, Yikes, for a new battery and installing the starter back in the engine, and connecting all of the wires, we had a running engine! Yippee, one engine fixed! The mood on MokaKat was improving, even with the rain.
Starter and solenoid removed before cleaning
Front view of starter and solenoid.
Where the starter and solenoid are supposed to be!
All this time, and the battery was bad!
New $200 battery ready to connect!
All connections were polished and battery spray(red) was applied.
Cleaned starter and solenoid installed and connected!
Starboard Engine: This engine I could start by jumping the solenoid, so the starter and solenoid were good. I then did some trouble shooting from the key switch to the solenoid, and discovered that the relay that I didn't know was installed on these motors, was actually bad. I installed new wire spade connectors and installed the new (automobile style) relay, and presto, the engine started! After two weeks, we finally have both engines running again!!!
The bad relay is the round object with the wires coming out!
Bad, bad relay!
The wires were re-tipped with blade connectors, ready for the new relay
New relay installed! I connected it on one of the bolts of the old relay, so that it would face the wires down and that I can one day replace the relay with the Yanmar part instead of an automobile relay.
Starboard engine with new relay!
Wow, it sounds too easy in the recap. I also cleaned up all of the battery connections, soldered any twisted wire connections, and clean the engine rooms! I also replaced air filters and checked all belts! I actually feel better about my engines, as I have learned a lot in the past week. I was asked by several people why I didn't just hire a mechanic to come and fix the engines. Well, I would have at some point, but I needed and wanted to figure it out myself, if possible. Yes, it was harder, but the knowledge that I learned will pay off in the future when I am somewhere more remote and maybe my boat would be in danger. I now feel more confident that I can start the engines in most situations, or at least determine where the issue is! That was the result of my education last week!
The 'Fun to Suck Meter' is starting to swing back to the fun side!!!!
Ready for sundowners, sunny weather, sailing and snorkeling!